Dunkin' Without Donuts?

Dunkin’ Rebrand Seen as Overdue, Fitting and Intuitive

Sep 26, 2018

SMITH BRAIN TRUST – Maryland Smith branding experts describe the decision by Dunkin’ Donuts to drop the "Donuts" from its name as overdue, fitting, and in tune with its customers' tastes. Starting in January, the “Donuts” will disappear from ads, social media accounts and signage at new and remodeled stores, according to the quick-serve coffee chain. Marketing professors at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business say the formal rebranding to just Dunkin' has been a long time coming.

A sign of its times: "Dunkin' Donuts has had ‘Donuts’ in its name but made most of its money from selling coffee. Dropping ‘Donuts’ from its name not only corrects potential misperception about its product assortment but could project a more modern image of the company. It also serves a symbolic purpose by officializing the company's transformation toward a broader assortment and desire to serve customers' needs for food around the clock." — Jie Zhang, professor of marketing, Harvey Sanders Fellow of Retail Management

Quick name for quick stops: "Given that so many customers are pressed for time, Dunkin' has been quite strategic about this move. Over the last decade, the company has steadily trained the public to equate its brand name with more than just donuts. Specifically, those craving a quick bite and hot cup of java can stop by one of its many convenient locations on the way to work. The ubiquitous slogan — 'America runs on Dunkin’' — has certainly done the trick.” — Henry C. Boyd III, clinical professor of marketing

A nickname its customers know: “It makes perfect sense. The company's loyal customers had already shortened the name in referencing the chain years ago even before the ‘America Runs on Dunkin’ tagline. Moving to just Dunkin' shows that it’s listening to its customers. The rebrand gives a refreshed feeling to the company and follows the 'name-shortening' trend that many consumer goods are following. This is very similar to Weight Watchers' move to be known as WW. Not only does a shortened name give brands more flexibility for future marketing directions, it also reflects consumers’ busy lifestyles and tendency to value shortcuts in accomplishing everyday tasks, and is quite similar to the way we communicate on social media. For Dunkin’, the rebranding gives more flexibility in advertising and promotion as it's modern and appeals to millennials, who are as reliant as past generations on their cup of coffee in the morning.

“It's also prudent for Dunkin’ to take this approach due to the increased awareness of the harmful dietary effects of refined sugar. Rather than discontinuing donuts, it’s signaling that its product offering is broader. Somewhat ironically, Starbucks took a similar approach a few years ago when it wanted to be known for more than just coffee.

 “Also, the trend toward simplified logos has much to do with consumers increasingly being on smartphones, with smaller screens, through which intricate logos are difficult to read. And, Dunkin' is savvy to rebrand with the same font and iconically associated colors. Such a change would have signaled too great of a change to its customer base.” — Mary B. Harms, clinical associate professor of marketing



About the Expert(s)

Mary B. Harms

Mary B. Harms joined University of Maryland in 2001. She is an Associate Clinical Professor in the department of marketing, the program champion for the Strategic Design and Innovation in Marketing Undergraduate Fellows, founder of the Young Alumni Marketing Council, Academic Coordinator for marketing internships and the faculty advisor of MasTERPiece, the Smith School's fashion organization for undergraduates.

Henry C. Boyd is a Clinical Professor in the Marketing Department at the Robert H. Smith School of Business. He is also a managing director and principal at Ombudsman LLC, a diversified consultancy. He is licensed to practice law in Maryland, Wisconsin, and the U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin.

Jie Zhang

Jie Zhang is a Professor of Marketing and the Harvey Sanders Fellow of Retail Management at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. She received her Ph.D. in marketing from the Kellogg School of Management at NorthwesternUniversity. She was a faculty member at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan prior to joining the Smith School. Her general research interest is to apply advanced econometric and statistical models to study consumer purchase behaviors and retail strategies.

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